Friday, July 30, 2010

Not writing any checks I cannot cash

So today I finally remembered to write a check, yes a real check, to my condo association. I write so few checks these days because just about everything is done electronically. I pay my bills online. My mortgage is deducted from my bank account -- Ironically, the same bank that holds my mortgage and one credit card. Sidenote: it's interesting that it pays my mortgage early, but doesn't deduct my credit card payment until the virtual last minute.

I write so few checks that I'm actually still using checks with the name of my bank at least two mergers ago.   Looking through my checkbook ledger -- which I use to keep track of my checks but don't bother balancing my checkbook -- I see that I've written about 10 checks in the last year.  Not counting the condo association which comes from a separate checking account.

There's the two to the respective tyrants government entities for my license plate and city sticker.  Then there are a couple of checks to our yoga instructor because she will no longer work for perogis.  There's a random check to a friend for event tickets, or the foot doctor who was born before the invention of bread and doesn't take credit cards.  Finally there are the ones to my insurance company because they don't have an easy pay by credit card method -- I have to call them on the telephone and TALK to someone to give them my cc info and I would rather be forced to watch Jersey Girls in 3-D.

I have a feeling my checks are gonna last me a very long time.  Which brings to mind this question: those businesses that make those custom checks -- how are they doing these days?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Baby Showers not my cup of tea

As a long standing rule, I don't typically attend baby showers or birthday parties for children. The only exception is if I am somehow responsible for that kid coming into this world. For example, my friends D&K can blame me for buying them shots at a bar party -- that I may or may not have been the person who won it by dropping a business card into the ole fishbowl -- which led to them hooking up and eventually getting married and spawning offspring. So I felt obligated to show up to their shower, and the kid's first birthday party.*

But otherwise, unless you expect me to delivery your baby or God forbid you have conclusive DNA evidence that I am the urchin's papa, don't look for me at the baby shower.  Of course, being older and 1.765348% wiser than I was when I made that rule, I was wondering if it isn't time to reconsider. Especially in light of an invitation to a nontraditional baby shower that came my way recently.

First came the invitation via snail mail. I thought it was a thank you card for a wedding present I had finally got around to sending. But no, it turned out to be an invitation to a the shower.  I did what any guy would do, put the invite on my desk and completely forgot about it almost immediately. 

A few days later came an email for the same event.  I'm sure there's a fancy french word for "person who puts on a baby shower on behalf of the expecting mother who will act like she didn't know this was being planned yet was the source of providing addresses for potential guests -- let's call her the Shower CoOrdinator.  The SO sent an email apologizing for the short notice and seeking a headcount so there could be enough food.

Now I was still pretty certain I wasn't gonna attend but was impressed by her owning up to sending out the invites late.  I'm sure that was meant for others; guys really don't care if we get 100 days or 100 seconds notice to a shower -- to avoid it, we'll puncture a lung.
But as I mentioned, this wasn't your typical run-of-the-mill baby shower.  It was for a fellow runner friend whom I've known for the better part of the decade.  We've traveled together to exotic lands to run marathons, like Paris and Cincinnati.  I was kinda feeling a little runner loyalty.

Then came the emails from fellow friends who are also guests asking if I was going to this magnificent event.  Those emails morphed from gentle inquiry to full out lobbying to get me to go.  Pushing the angle that it was more of a backyard barbecue than a shower, even though neither the snail mail invite or the email from the SO made any mention of BBQ.
Reading between the lines, it didn't take long to figure out that they have husbands they want to drag along to the event as well.  It seems I had become the domino that could empower a bunch of wives to make their husbands attend an event with them.

So after checking with SigOther, I RSVP'd -- which is French for Please Let Us know what the F you are doing -- that we would be attending.
Stay tuned for a follow-up post of the actual event.

* Fortunately, they have blown off enough of my parties that I now have a "get-out-of pretty much anything they invite me to" card.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Now if they would just create bus-only lanes on Irving Park

Several years ago, I switched from taking the Brown Line to the Blue Line to get to work.  Initially it was because of the Brown Line renovation, and my commute time was expected to double.  So my choices were: get up earlier (not likely) or find an alternate route.

Because the Blue is so much faster, I still take it to work.  Often I drive to the nearest station and park near the Cooney Funeral Home.  But sometimes I have my act together enough to take the bus.  Surprisingly, I can take two buses and the Blue Line and still get to work faster than if I just walked to the Kedzie Brown Line and rode it all the way in.

However, there is something that has always bother me about the Irving Park bus ride.  We stop at Central Park and then we make another stop one block later at Elston.  It seems to me that it would make more sense to eliminate the Central Park stop and make everyone walk one short block -- and it really is a short block -- east or west to catch the next bus.

During the reign of the 80X a compromise was developed.  The 80X skipped the Central Park stop while the 80 would hit both.  I usually managed to catch the 80X so I didn't care as much but still thought about writing Tracy Swartz from Going Public to make the suggestion.  Guess I didn't have to:

Spotted this sign as I walked home today.  Looks like they are getting rid of the stop.  My only questions are 1) why make it happen on a Thursday and 2) who in the CTA is reading my mind.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MT: Week Four -- By The Book

It's my fault that I cannot remember all the little details about last week's training because I waited too long to post this blog.  Part of the reason for the delay is I split my time between my place and my girlfriend's condo and last week was one of those times when it was more 70-30 than 50-50 her place. 

I do recall that on Tuesday we did our tempo run and then got together for post-speed workout drinks and food.  Even though it made for a later evening than I had planned, I felt it was important to bond with the other runners.

On Thursday Adrian, Tracey and I met for quarter mile repeats at the track behind the Water Tower Mall. It's a little known track that is situated behind several tall buildings such that in the evening, you are seldom if ever in direct sunlight.

Saturday's LR was uneventful for me, though my girlfriend had an adventure.  Our friend Ginger suffered an odd injury -- she slipped and cut her lip and face up a bit.  It was at the 7th mile of a 9 mile run and my SigOther asked "would you like me to stay with you?"

Even though the group leader did everything by the book and stayed with Ginger the entire time, she still took the SigOther up on her offer.  My girlfriend was a little upset because she was looking forward to completing the longest distance of her life at that point. 

I had felt some guilt in week three because I cut some runs short, so I know exactly how she feels.  I did what I could to convince her that those two miles won't come back to haunt her as long as she gets in all her runs this week and makes it to whatever distance we are doing this Saturday. 

Still, I was really proud of her for being upset at not finishing her mileage.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

One appliance headache leads to another

It started with my dishwasher a few weeks ago.  I noticed that there was some water pooling at the bottom.  It wasn't leaking and the dishwasher functioned fine.  But I couldn't leave well enough alone.  Nope, I had to get a screwdriver and see if I could figure out why the water wasn't draining completely. 

Again, I don't have the terminology to correctly identify the parts and am a bit too lazy to google it right now.  Because the point is, I decided to investigate replacing the dishwasher. And of course if I'm gonna replace the dishwasher, it is a slippery slope to replacing the other appliances.  Warning: blatant justification approaching!

I figured that since my appliances are at least 9 years old, I would have to make some type of concession to whomever buys my condo (if and when that ever happens).  Also, newer appliances would make the place more appealing and we'd get to use them in the meantime.  I decided that I wouldn't get state-of-the art, top-of-the line, but I wasn't gonna go absolute cheapest either.  I want something middle of the line.

I did some research and tried to compare deals between the usual suspects -- Home Depot, Best Buy, Sears, etc.  The problem is that each store does it differently.  One place will give free shipping but the installation is $150.  Another place charges $50 for delivery and $100 for installation.  Most will provide free haul away of your old unit while some charge up to $40.

Here's the deal with that.  Big Guy store hauls away your old appliances.  They probably have someone who evaluates the inventory and they get separated into 1) still working 2) need minor repairs and 3) too expensive to repair or completely broken.  Category 3 hopefully gets recycled or disposed of properly.  Categories 1 and 2 get sold to one of those Discount Appliance Stores you see next to the Currency Exchanges in the borderline neighborhoods.

Discount Appliance Store buys these appliances in bulk.  Let's say they buy my old dishwasher, refrigerator, oven range and microwave for $100 total.  They then sell these items either individually or as a package to customers with a slight markup.  For example, they might sell my appliances to a landlord who just purchased a two or three flat and needs to replace or provide these appliances.  They might sell them to the landlord for $200.  DAS makes $100 profit and the landlord saves hundreds of dollars over buying them new, banking on the hope that the appliances last a couple more years until he can purchase newer, better quality items -- if he's every inclined to do so.

Staining a Saddle

So decided to tackle another home project last week.  I decided to stain the board underneath the front door to my condo.  I wasn't sure what the technical term for this board was so I googled it and found it is called a Threshold or Saddle.
For some reason, the Thresholds on our doors do not match the dark woodwork of our doors and stairs.  I'm guessing they were retro fitted and no one ever bothered to stain them correctly.  There were four almost-impossible to remove screws and  I thought it would simply be a matter of removing those screws, taking the sill to my workshop (aka my mother's basement) to sanding and stain.  Not so fast.

The screws just held down this one thin strip of wood which is part form, part function.  The Threshold itself was held down by more screws which were sealed with some type of wax.  I didn't want to break these so I decided to sand the Saddle in place.  I cheated and used a belt sander (read: overkill) to do the majority of the board and then used some sand paper by hand to do the parts the belt couldn't reach.

Here it is after one coat.  I didn't realize that the stain would take 6 hours to dry enough to add a second coat and that I would also need to use steel wool beforehand.  The steel wool apparently is to break the polyurethane so that another coat can be applied.  So another trip to the hardware store.  While there, I decided to replace the screws I had removed with better ones, since I had basically stripped the previous ones -- I could have used them one more time, but if  I ever needed to remove this piece again, it would have been a hassle.
After rubbing the Threshold with the fine steel wool, I put that thin strip of wood back on and then applied a second coat.  While it takes 6 hours to dry, you can usually remove the painters tape after about 30 minutes.  The finished product:

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